A strong plan to protect 30% of Colorado lands and waters by 2030

Colorado News

Conservationists in Colorado are dreaming big. 

In a time of political turmoil and legislative impotence, a consortium of Colorado conservation groups are floating an audacious plan to conserve 30% of the land in the state — roughly 20 million acres — by 2030. Since statehood, the state has protected only 6 million acres. 

The state is losing open land more quickly than it is protecting it. Since 2001, about a half-million acres in Colorado has been lost to development. That is reflective of a worldwide trend that has some lawmakers and conservationists galvanized to make the U.S. a global leader in slowing the loss of wildlife and rainforests. 

The Global Deal for Nature movement calls for Earth’s residents to protect half the planet’s land, waters and oceans by 2050. Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and New Mexico U.S. Sen. Tom Udall have sponsored legislation — the “Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature”  — to protect 30% of the country’s lands and waters by 2030. California Gov. Gavin Newsom last week made the 30-by-30 goal a formal state policy. 

And now a coalition of conservation groups in Colorado has detailed a roadmap for how the state can reach the bold goal and protect more than 14 million acres of land in the next decade. The “Colorado Pathways to 30-by-30” proposal expands the definition of conservation, with state-level reforms to limit the impacts of energy development, executive orders, federal and state land manager policies and private landowner protection all included in the toolbox. 

“Protecting 30% of Colorado’s lands by 2030 will require a variety of approaches and creative solutions,” reads the plan, which calls for a unified effort involving federal and state land managers, tribal leaders, local communities and private landowners.  

The state of Colorado has 2.7 million acres of trust lands, given by the federal government at statehood and managed to generate revenue for public schools. State trust lands are not necessarily public; access is limited to only 500,000 acres or so, mostly managed by the State Land Board for hunting and fishing access. The “Colorado Pathways to 30-by-30” plan suggests the State Land Board could develop long-term “conservation and recreation leases” that produce revenue for schools while limiting the need for energy leases. The plan also suggests the federal government and State Land Board work together to identify possible land exchanges that could link scattered parcels that hinder access and conservation efforts.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has 42 parks on 205,000 acres and 350 state wildlife areas totaling 684,000 acres that are protected for wildlife and habitat. The agency has invested $164 million into conservation easements that protect more than 300,000 acres. The 30-by-30 plan calls for Colorado Parks and Wildlife to lead a statewide conservation and recreation plan not unlike the Colorado Water Plan while working with lawmakers to pursue “an ambitious vision and numeric goal” for new parks and wildlife areas.

The plan also calls for an executive order from Gov. Jared Polis, a la Newsom in California, that commits to 30-by-30 while expanding state conservation funding to leverage the expected fourfold increase in federal dollars coming from the Great American Outdoors Act’s full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The list of priorities continues with implementation of the Colorado climate plans,  implementation of “just transition” policies to support rural areas moving beyond a reliance on fossil fuels and “complete oil and gas regulatory reform” outlined in 2019 legislation. 

The federal government manages 24 million in acres in Colorado, roughly 36% of the state’s land. The Forest Service manages 14 million acres spread across 11 national forests. Wilderness designation and the Colorado Roadless Rule are two primary conservation tools for protecting Forest Service lands. The Colorado Roadless Rule covers about 4.1 million acres in 363 areas but since those areas do allow for some energy development and motorized trail access, the report calls for Congress to legislate “a higher and more permanent level of protection for these areas.” 

Autumn foliage stretches over Boulder Creek in the early morning hours. Oct. 12, 2020. (Lucy Haggard, The Colorado Sun)

The report says conservation efforts in Colorado would benefit from passage of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy Act, or CORE Act, which would protect more than 400,000 acres in Colorado. The CORE Act wrapped together several land protection bills that had languished for more than a decade and marks one of the most ambitious public lands protection proposals for Colorado in 25 years. (Congresswoman Diana DeGette has proposed a wilderness protection bill 20 years in a row without success.) 

The Bureau of Land Management manages 8.3 million acres in Colorado, mostly spread across the Western Slope. The BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System includes 65 areas in Colorado spanning more than 1 million acres. The BLM also manages public lands for energy development with lease programs to access nearly 27 million acres of federal mineral estate in Colorado. The 30-by-30 report calls for the BLM to revise its management plans to prioritize conservation as fossil fuel production declines. The report calls for Congress to reform oil and gas leasing programs with a moratorium on new leasing to energy developers and a permanent end to coal leasing. 

The pathways report urged engagement with Colorado’s tribes, including the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes, whose reservations total 1 million acres. 

“Given Colorado’s violent history of oppression and expulsion of native people, there is a restorative justice element to inclusion of tribes in future conservation planning,” reads the report, which also urges communities to include people of color in the conservation effort as a way to connect under-privileged and overlooked communities with parks and public lands. 

The racial and economic disparities surrounding the access to open spaces, parks and public lands is known as the “Nature Gap.”

“Communities of color have less access to public lands than white communities and communities of color are 20% more likely to experience nature deprivations,” said Jessica Goad, the deputy director of Conservation Colorado, which assembled the 30-by-30 plan. 

Privately owned property accounts for nearly 60% of all the land in Colorado, ranging from single-family homes in cities to large ranches. A statewide coalition of land trusts called “Keep it Colorado” is developing a plan to guide private land protection — and incentivize conservation easements — over the next decade.

More than 33 miles of streams feeding the Navajo River are protected in the conservation easement on southern Colorado’s Banded Peak Ranch. (Provided by John Fielder / The Conservation Fund)

The overarching message in the 30-by-30 plan is that land conservation must dovetail policies to reduce the impacts of climate change. 

“I do think this is the vision that shows the human impact on land and the human impact on climate are one in the same,” said Andre Miller, the western lands policy analyst for Western Resource Advocates. “I think for a long time the climate effort focused on rightfully closing down coal power and shifting to a clean energy economy but I think a lot of scientists are realizing that lands and climate are one in the same and you need this wide-reaching approach to addressing the climate crisis.”

Miller sees growing support for large-scale conservation work in Colorado. Sen. Bennet and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse both are champions of the 30-by-30 movement. And this year’s State of the Rockies conservation poll by Colorado College showed 74% of Colorado residents support a national goal of protecting 30% of the land, water and ocean by 2030. 

To establish Colorado as a policy innovator in reaching 30% conservation in the next decade will require commitment by state lawmakers and a lot of money. Miller points to the relatively swift establishment of the state’s new Fishers Peak State Park in Trinidad as an indication that conservation can happen quickly. He hopes support from Polis would lead to state agencies and federal land managers working together to create more national monuments, more wilderness areas, more state wildlife areas and as many as 10 new state parks in the next 10 years. 

“We will need a bold shift toward this type of landscape scale protection,” Miller said.

Conservation groups in Colorado already are at the forefront of legal and policy action. They champion bills like DeGette’s 660,000-acre Colorado Wilderness Bill and the CORE Act. They fight just about every lease sale by the BLM. They advocate for Gunnison sage grouse and other species threatened by development. And they even sue the BLM over resource management plans that lean toward oil and gas development and away from evolving economies like those in the North Fork Valley, where recreation small-scale agriculture and wine are driving an economic renaissance away from a sole reliance on extractive industry.

“What 30-by-30 does is it gives us the chance to harness these things together so we can be bigger than the sum of our parts,” said Scott Braden, the interim director of the Western Slope Conservation Center, which, incidentally, is among a consortium of climate and conservation groups suing the BLM over its approval of a resource management that expands oil and gas development in the Uncompahgre Plateau’s North Fork Valley.

Conservationists and the Forest Service are raising money to protect Sweetwater Lake bordering the Flat Tops Wilderness in Garfield County. (Todd Winslow Pierce, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The biggest challenge for the plan is “political will,” Goad said. 

The plan needs support in Washington,D.C., and among state and local leaders as well as private landowners. And that has happened before in Colorado, said Goad, pointing to clean energy initiatives that have made renewable energy in Colorado cheaper than coal in the last decade. 

The impacts of climate change are driving the need for land conservation, Goad said. 

“Look at this summer of wildfires,” she said. “For the first time, many of us in Colorado are checking the air quality index before we go outside every day and that is a real impact from climate change.” 

The pandemic also is elevating the need for land protection as more Coloradans explore the state. 

“I think Coloradans are just feeling so lucky to live in this state during the pandemic and are really embracing the Colorado way of life and outdoor lifestyle and we know we need more protected land,” Goad said. “And investment in our public lands and water has to be part of our economic recovery, with the protection of public lands economically linked to our rural economies.”

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Where Donald Trump and Joe Biden split on Colorado concerns in presidential race

more news https://northdenvernews.com

The race for the White House is not running through Colorado this year, but the differences between the candidates on local issues are profound.

The economy and health care are just two of those issues where President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden split. Moreover, there is little doubt that the events of 2020, including racial unrest, the coronavirus pandemic and recession, have made clear how much policy decisions at the national level impact Colorado.

The Colorado Sun researched the candidates’ platforms and asked the presidential campaigns to respond to more than a dozen questions on key Colorado issues. In their responses, neither campaign addressed every issue covered below. 

MORE: See where presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden stand on Colorado issues in our voters guide

On coronavirus response

The coronavirus pandemic has shaped the campaign in more ways than one, and on that issue Trump’s and Biden’s views are predictably divergent.

Echoing public health experts, a study by Oxford University found the Trump administration mangled its response to the virus. The Trump administration largely delegated and deflected to the states responsibility for obtaining medical supplies, while also outbidding states for some equipment. His administration in September released a plan for distributing a coronavirus vaccine and said it would “engage with state, tribal, territorial, and local partners” to facilitate distribution. 

Biden has repeatedly criticized Trump for the way he has handled the virus, and advocates for a greater federal response. His website says he would “take responsibility” for distributing medical equipment to states, and he proposes setting up new federal infrastructure to handle the response to the virus and coordinate with states. 

Trump has mocked Biden for wearing a mask, and Biden has called on every governor to mandate mask wearing.

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On the economy 

Trump’s stance on providing economic relief to states in response to the pandemic has changed throughout the fall, as he called off stimulus negotiations with Congress before shortly restarting them and asking for a more aggressive economic response. On this issue, Biden says he believes the federal government should do more to provide economic aid to states and has criticized Republicans in Congress for not passing an aid package. 

Biden supports additional stimulus checks, if needed, and says he would provide more money to states to protect essential workers from being laid off. He’s also suggested Congress should establish a pool of money for states to draw from.

Trump has repeatedly portrayed a rosy version of the economic recovery and has leaned on the strength of the economy in some of his campaign messaging. “I had to close the greatest economy in the history of our country,” he said at the first presidential debate. “And by the way, now it’s being built again.”

Trump and Republicans in 2017 slashed taxes for the vast majority of Americans in an effort to stoke greater economic growth. It is difficult to say definitively what impact that cuts had, though they haven’t boosted the economy to the extent Trump said they would.

But economic indicators suggest the path toward normalcy could be long and rugged, and Republicans and Democrats have failed to agree on a stimulus package, even as the chair of the Federal Reserve pleaded for them to take action. 

Biden says his service as vice president during the recovery from the Great Recession qualifies him to lead the post-pandemic recovery. He has connected the economic collapse with Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis. 

His website says he would repeal “some of Trump’s tax cuts for corporations” and impose “common-sense tax reforms that finally make sure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share.” He would raise taxes for people making more than $400,000 annually. 

On the environment

The candidates have strikingly different views on energy and the environment — issues that are particularly important to Coloradans. Trump has consistently promoted fossil fuels in his speeches and his policies. He and his campaign have attacked Biden’s position on fracking. The former vice president says he won’t ban fracking but would like to phase it out over time as part of an aggressive effort to stave off the worst effects of climate change. On his campaign website, Biden says he opposes new permits for drilling on public lands and waters but his position statement did not address existing operations.

Fracking on public lands expanded under the Trump administration, as the Interior Department under his leadership has weakened rules that regulate the practice. The administration has repealed or scaled back many Obama-era environmental regulations, including those that aimed to cut back carbon pollution. 

Environmental advocates applauded Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan, which was more ambitious than the position he staked out during the primary. His plan seeks to transition the U.S. to net zero emissions by 2050, which would likely require regulations more stringent than those implemented by Obama.

“I know meeting the challenge would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to jolt new life into our economy, strengthen our global leadership, protect our planet for future generations,” Biden said when he unveiled his plan.

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On health care

Biden resisted pressure to move to the left on health care during the primary. He says he supports creating a Medicare-like public option that would enable people to buy a government-run health care plan. He has said he would lower the age of eligibility for Medicare and focus on strengthening and protecting the Affordable Care Act. 

Biden’s Medicare scale-up could have ramifications in Colorado, as it would enable states that expanded Medicare — like Colorado — to take part in a government run, “premium-free public option,” so long as states help cover part of the cost.

Trump and Senate Republicans tried to repeal Obamacare, which now provides health care to over 20 million Americans, early in the president’s term but were unsuccessful. Trump has not put forward a plan outlining what he would replace Obamacare with, even though his administration is challenging the law’s legality in court.

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Eight months right into pandemic blind Coloradans still can not access some state and also area COVID information Accessibility and the idea of blind individuals doesn’t occur. Ever.

Colorado News

County and state public health agencies in Colorado have posted coronavirus data, public health orders and testing locations on their websites. But many of those documents, forms and graphics are inaccessible for people with vision impairments.

Curtis Chong, a blind person from Aurora who has worked with the National Federation of the Blind on computer accessibility issues, noted that his JAWS screen reader cannot interpret many of the data visualizations on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s website. JAWS is one of the most widely used screen readers, according to a 2019 survey from the web accessibility organization WebAIM. Screen readers translate coded text and numbers into speech, or, with the aid of additional adaptive technology, into Braille. They are not able to read pictures of text, such as scanned PDF documents.

“You want to make accessibility part of the culture way at the beginning of the process so that it doesn’t  have to be slapped on later and that’s not what is happening,” Chong said. “Accessibility and the thought of blind people doesn’t occur. Ever.” 

The state’s data dashboard website, Chong said, contains a number of graphics that his screen reader reads just as “data visualization.”

“You don’t know, if you activate a link what sort of graph or chart or something is that you’re going to see,” he said.

Other coronavirus resources, like lists of testing sites, were also inaccessible, at a state and local level.

Weld County, for instance, presents a list of testing sites on its website. But while the list contained addresses and testing hours for nine Salud Community Health testing locations, screen reader users could not hear the names or days of operation for the sites, instead only hearing the list as an image of “Salud COVID-19 Testing Sites.”

A day after receiving questions from the Colorado News Collaborative, Weld County replaced the image with an accessible table and fixed another accessibility error on the page. Ryan Rose, the county’s chief information officer, said in a statement that the county conducted an audit of its main site, including its COVID pages. For the most part, he said, the pages did not have significant errors.

“At this time, we are evaluating accessibility on the health — and all other — web pages for major issues that we may have missed,” he said.

Teller County listed its testing schedule in separate locations on its site. In one place, it presented the testing schedule in a PDF as a calendar of events

In another location, the county’s health department displayed the same calendar as an image with the name of the file — again, information presented in a way that a blind person cannot easily access. 

The Colorado News Collaborative (COLab) described the accessibility problems and sent a detailed list of questions to Teller County Health Director Jacqueline Revello on Sep. 9. Revello has not responded to those questions. The accessibility problems on the county’s testing site remain over one month later.

COLab emailed Revello again on Tuesday, but the county has not responded.

The governor has an Office of Information Technology and an accessibility architect who is a blind woman, Chong said. The office has a board and he serves on the board along with Scott LaBarre, the head of the Colorado affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. “It’s a good board,” Chong said, “but if you want to be blunt about it, the mountain we must move to achieve accessibility is huge.”  

For example, a page the Department of Public Health and Environment links to that allows people to search for testing sites near their address only contained labels for one of its two fields and had a search button that read in Chong’s screen reader as “button.” Chong said that he was able to enter his address using that page but that it was “more confusing than it needed to be.”

Chong said he understands that money and staffing are nowhere where they need to be to tackle the accessibility gulf, but he and others would welcome more regular communication from and with state information tech specialists so “it’s not just Curtis Chong writing a note asking ‘Why are you doing that?’ They have some tables that work, but we can’t look at trends by day. We can’t see, ‘Oh, the numbers in September went down and then up again.’” 

Something as simple as a text block summarizing the charts would make a difference, he said. 

In a statement, the CDPHE said that it has worked to provide coronavirus data in formats like Excel downloads that are more accessible than data visualizations. In addition, the department said it uses a tool to test the accessibility of its website and that it has a staff member working 15-20 hours each week manually looking for accessibility issues. The department said it also recently developed a guide marking best practices for accessibility and has trained COVID-19 staff to spot common accessibility issues.

“The pandemic has certainly exacerbated health disparities and inequalities, and we are prioritizing accessibility of life-saving information to all communities in our state,” the statement reads.

The issue is by no means limited to Colorado or to COVID-19 information, said Chris Danielsen, director of public relations for the National Federation of the Blind. Society was moving online anyway, but “with the pandemic it has taken on whole other dimensions,” he said.

Lack of accessibility is affecting blind students. It is affecting blind parents trying to help their students. It is affecting people trying to access state services, he said.

The Department of Justice has said that lack of equal access to information violates the Americans with Disabilities Act “and that is particularly true with regard to public entities,” Danielsen said. Government agencies “have the responsibility to communicate effectively with people with disabilities and to give access to all the same information and services. So it is, in fact, unlawful.”

Coronavirus websites have posed accessibility problems across the country. In April, the Markup, an investigative technology journalism nonprofit, found that three in five state government coronavirus websites included empty links or buttons, preventing blind people from knowing what the links or buttons were designed to do.

Chong said that for the most part, blind people as a community are able to adapt, finding ways to get the information they need. Sometimes, he said, that just means asking or paying someone to read for him. In Colorado, the National Federation of the Blind is running an assistance mailbox to help blind people who are struggling to find transportation or health services. People can reach that assistance mailbox by calling 303-778-1130, ext. 219 or by emailing assistance@nfbco.org.

But the barriers, Chong said, can make it difficult for people with visual impairments to receive the services and information they need in a timely manner. 

“We’re not trying to cast blame,” he said. “We’re just saying we have a problem here.”

Tina Griego contributed to this report.

Max Lee is a recent graduate of Stanford University’s graduate program in journalism. He’s interning for the Colorado News Collaborative through the Stanford Rebele Internship Program.

This story is brought to you by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative, a nonprofit coalition of more than 60 newsrooms across Colorado working together to better serve the public. Learn more at https://colabnews.co

via Straight News https://www.coloradoindependent.com/2020/10/15/colorado-covid-information-accessibility-blind/

Did you miss our previous article…

Denver district attorneys will certainly bill Matthew Dolloff with second-degree murder in protest capturing

get headlines https://thecherrycreeknews.com

Denver prosecutors on Thursday announced they will charge Matthew Dolloff with second-degree murder in Saturday’s fatal shooting as dueling protests wrapped up in Civic Center Park.

The 30-year-old, who was working as a private, contracted security guard for television station 9News at the time of the shooting, faces between 16 and 48 years in prison if convicted.

Matthew Dolloff, 30, is being held for investigation of first-degree murder. (Denver Police Department)

Dolloff is accused in the killing of 49-year old Lee Keltner, a U.S. Navy veteran and custom cowboy hat maker. Dolloff was initially being held on suspicion of committing first-degree murder.

Prosecutors say they will formally file the charges on Monday. “No additional information is being released at this time,” the Denver District Attorney’s Office says.

Videos and photos of the shooting show Dolloff shot Keltner after Keltner struck him in the face. It appears their altercation happened after Keltner became upset that he was being filmed verbally fighting with another man.

9News says it has been hiring security guards to accompany its staff at protests for several months. Dolloff was provided to the station by the security firm Pinkerton, which says it obtained Dolloff’s services through a contract with Isborn Security Services.

Matt Isborn, the owner of Isborn Security Services, said Wednesday that his company had hired Dolloff to work for KUSA-TV. He said the information released so far shows that Dolloff’s actions were “strictly defensive in nature” and his quick reaction may have saved the producer’s life.

Dolloff’s attorney has defended his client’s actions as being in self-defense. Dolloff was accompanying a 9News producer at the time of the shooting.

9News said it specifically asked Pinkerton for unarmed guards and that none of its employees were aware that Dolloff had a gun on the day of the shooting.

The altercation that led up the shooting happened after dueling left- and right-wing rallies in downtown Denver.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Federal district attorneys bill Texas billionaire with Colorado incorporate $2 billion tax fraud plan

get headlines https://thecherrycreeknews.com

By Janie Har, The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Federal prosecutors charged Texas billionaire Robert Brockman on Thursday with a $2 billion tax fraud scheme in what they say is the largest such case against an American.

Department of Justice officials said at a news conference that Brockman, 79, hid capital gains income over 20 years through a web of offshore entities in Bermuda and Nevis and secret bank accounts in Bermuda and Switzerland. Prosecutors announced that the CEO of a private equity firm that aided in the schemes would cooperate with the investigation.

The 39-count indictment unsealed Thursday charges Brockman, the chief executive officer of Ohio-based software company Reynolds and Reynolds Co., with tax evasion, wire fraud, money laundering, and other offenses.

Prosecutors also announced that Robert F. Smith, founder and chairman of Vista Equity Partners, will cooperate in the investigation and pay $139 million to settle his own tax probe. Smith, 57, stunned a senior class last year when he promised to wipe out the student loan debt of the entire graduating class at Morehouse, a historically Black all-male college.

“Complexity will not hide crime from law enforcement. Sophistication is not a defense to federal criminal charges,” said David L. Anderson, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California. “We will not hesitate to prosecute the smartest guys in the room.”

Brockman appeared in federal court from Houston via Zoom Thursday. He entered a plea of not guilty to all counts and was released on $1 million bond, said Abraham Simmons, spokesman for the Northern District of California.

Prosecutors said he used encrypted emails with code names, including Permit, Snapper, Redfish and Steelhead, to carry out the fraud and ordered evidence to be manipulated or destroyed.

Brockman, a resident of Houston and Pitkin County, Colorado, is chairman and CEO of Reynolds and Reynolds, a 4,300-employee company near Dayton, Ohio, that sells accounting, sales and management software to auto dealerships. The software helps set up websites, including live chats with potential customers, find loans and calculate customer payments, manage payroll and pay bills.

Reynolds & Reynolds issued a statement saying the allegations were outside Brockman’s work with the company and that the company is not alleged to have participated in any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors say that Smith used about $2.5 million in untaxed funds to buy and upgrade a vacation home in Sonoma, California; purchase two ski properties in France; and spend $13 million to buy a property and fund charitable activities at his property in Colorado.

In 2013, a charitable trust set up by Brockman’s late father withdrew a pledged $250 million donation to Centre College, a small liberal arts school in Danville, Kentucky, where Brockman attended class and once served as chairman of the board of trustees.

At the time the school said it was due to a “significant capital market event” that didn’t pan out. A spokesman for Reynolds and Reynolds said in 2013 that the event was a proposed refinancing deal involving Vista Equity Partners, Smith’s company.

Anderson applauded Smith for stepping up, despite the serious nature of his crimes.

“Smith’s agreement to cooperate has put him on a path away from indictment,” he said.

In 2019, Smith announced to the graduating class at Morehouse College that he would pay off the student loan debt of the entire class, saying that he expected the graduates to “pay it forward.” The estimated cost was $40 million.

Forbes lists Smith as #461 on its billionaires list, with a net worth of more than $5 billion.

He founded the tech investment firm Vista in 2000 and Forbes reports that it now has over $50 billion in assets and is “one of the best-performing private equity firms, posting annualized returns of 22% since inception.” Vista has offices in San Francisco and Oakland.

Vista did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Associated Press writers Tom Krisher in Detroit, Juliet Williams in San Francisco and Jake Bleiberg in Dallas contributed to this story.

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  • Denver prosecutors will charge Matthew Dolloff with second-degree murder in protest shooting
  • Federal prosecutors charge Texas billionaire with Colorado ties in $2 billion tax fraud scheme
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Man called neo-Nazi pleads guilty in Pueblo synagogue bomb plot

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By Colleen Slevin, The Associated Press

A man described by U.S. prosecutors as a neo-Nazi and white supremacist pleaded guilty on Thursday to a hate crime for plotting to bomb a historic Colorado synagogue last year.

Richard Holzer, 28, pleaded guilty to attempting to stop people from exercising their religion with an explosive or fire and attempting to destroy a building used in interstate commerce in a plea deal with prosecutors.

While each of the two crimes carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison, prosecutors in return promised not to ask a judge to impose a sentence of more than 20 years when Holzer is sentenced Jan. 21.

Holzer was arrested Nov. 1, 2019, after receiving phony pipe bombs and dynamite from undercover FBI agents he had been meeting with.

EARLIER: Pueblo man arrested by federal agents wanted to blow up historic synagogue, court documents say

One agent posing as a white supremacist had reached out to him online after seeing Holzer’s social media posts promoting white supremacy and violence, according to the facts agreed to by both sides as part of the plea deal.

As he accepted the fake explosives hours before he planned to use them at Pueblo’s Temple Emanuel synagogue, Holzer, displaying a Nazi armband and carrying a copy of “Mein Kampf” in his backpack, the plea deal said.

Holzer also allegedly thanked the agents for their efforts and called the planned attack a “move for our race”, the document said.

Richard Holzer. (Provided by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office)

After his arrest, Holzer told police that he did not plan to hurt anyone by bombing the synagogue in the middle of the night, but acknowledged he would have gone ahead with his plan if the building had been occupied because anyone there would be Jewish, the plea deal document said.

The Temple Emanuel is the second oldest synagogue in Colorado. It was built in 1900 largely by descendants of immigrants from central and eastern Europe.

In a statement about the deal, Colorado U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn called the law enforcement effort on the case “the most important work that we can do – protecting our communities by stopping an attack before it occurred.”

Holzer’s guilty plea is a reminder that hate crimes will not be tolerated in the state, Scott Levin, the director of the Anti-Defamation League Mountain States Region said.

MORE: Trinidad’s Temple Aaron seemed destined to die. But the 131-year-old Jewish synagogue’s fate was never sealed.

“Hate crimes damage the social fabric of our society and fragment communities. It is critical that those who seek to harm others because of their religion, race, national origin, sexual orientation or any other defining characteristic, be held accountable for their crimes,” he said.

According to the league, the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in Colorado increased 56 percent from 2018 to 2019.

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via Straight News https://coloradosun.com/2020/10/15/richard-holzer-temple-emanuel-pleads-guilty/

Price cut cigarette makers file government claim seeking to revoke part of Colorados Proposition EE

Colorado News

Three discount cigarette manufacturers on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit seeking to prevent a key element of Proposition EE from taking effect if the measure on the November ballot is approved by voters. 

The clause would mandate a pack of cigarettes can be sold for no less than $7 starting next year. 

The Liggett Group, Vector Tobacco and Xcaliber International say the so-called minimum price provision unfairly benefits premium tobacco brands, like Philip Morris International, whose parent company, Altria, helped negotiate the language in the ballot measure. 


Liggett and Vector are both subsidiaries of the Vector Group Ltd. Phillip Morris is the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, one of the world’s most popular brands.

The discount brands claim that the minimum-price provision would hand Phillip Morris and Altria the market share in Colorado by eliminating the entire allure of discount cigarettes — that they are cheaper.

Proposition EE, which raises taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco and nicotine products in Colorado, was placed on the November ballot when lawmakers passed House Bill 1427 in June. The legislation was rushed through in the final days of the 2020 lawmaking term and was negotiated by Altria, Democratic legislators, health advocacy groups and Gov. Jared Polis’ office. 

Altria has traditionally fought tobacco tax increases in Colorado. The company spent more than $16 million to defeat a ballot question in 2017 that sought to increase cigarette taxes. But this year, Altria hasn’t dropped a penny on Proposition EE. 

“Not only is that fixed minimum-price provision unconstitutional under, among other things, the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, it was rushed through the Colorado General Assembly and presented to the
voters without complying with Colorado’s constitutional requirements,” the lawsuit says.

MORE: Marlboro’s owners negotiated Colorado’s proposed tobacco tax hike — and it could help them dominate the cigarette market

The lawsuit makes the following specific claims: 

  • Proposition EE violates the Commerce Clause because it favors in-state retailers, “imposes an undue burden on interstate commerce by, among other things, interfering with the interstate sale of cigarettes, and causes negative extraterritorial effects on the cigarette market outside of Colorado.” 
  • The minimum-price provision violates the U.S. Constitution’s Due Process Clause by depriving discount cigarette brands of their protected property interests. 
  • The policy violates Colorado law because neither House Bill 1427 nor Proposition EE mention the minimum-price provision in its title. It also violates Colorado’s single-subject rule mandating that legislation can only address one policy. 

Polis, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and the Legislative Council of the Colorado General Assembly are named as defendants in the lawsuit. None of them immediately returned messages seeking comment on Thursday evening.

“The price-fixing component of Proposition EE would not only benefit Philip Morris and hurt value conscious consumers, it was intentionally omitted from the ballot question, leaving Colorado voters in the dark about this unconstitutional proposal,” Nicholas Anson, president and chief operating officer of Liggett Group and Liggett Vector Brands, said in a written statement.

MORE: Read the lawsuit.

The lawsuit isn’t aimed at stopping Proposition EE from passing, but rather is an insurance policy for the discount cigarette brands aimed at blocking the minimum-price provision should the initiative be approved by voters. The legal action also alleges the minimum-price provision was added to House Bill 1427 to placate Altria and ensure they wouldn’t fight the measure. 

Proposition EE, if passed, would impose the minimum-price provision next year. It mandates that a pack of cigarettes can be sold for no less than $7 and a carton for no less than $70.  Then, in 2024, the price floor rises to $7.50 a pack and $75 a carton.

As House Bill 1427 was making its way through the legislature, state Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican, warned that the minimum-price provision would be problematic. He introduced an amendment to strip it from the policy, but Democrats rejected the change.  

“We really don’t have the constitutional authority to tell stores the minimum amount they can sell (items) for,” Hill said. 

Discount cigarette makers file federal lawsuit seeking to invalidate part of Colorado’s Proposition EE

Lawmakers and health advocacy groups have defended the minimum-price provision. They say it’s aimed at reducing cigarette smoking in Colorado since studies have shown that as prices go up, use declines. They also contend that other states have implemented similar minimum-price policies.

But the discount cigarette brands point to the fact that in other states, the minimum-price provisions maintain market competitiveness by setting the price floors through a retail price formula, not a blanket mandate. 

“Every state that has sought to raise cigarette prices without utilizing an excise tax has done so without conferring a windfall on in-state retailers at the expense of out-of-state companies,” the lawsuit says. States often raise cigarette prices through ‘minimum mark-up laws,’ which preserves relative price differences between cigarette brands and ensures market competition. State minimum mark-up laws are not anti-competitive because they maintain price differences across cigarette brands sold by competitors, instead of mandating a fixed minimum retail price.”

The lawsuit says minimum mark-up laws promote fair trade “by requiring wholesalers and retailers to mark-up cigarette prices by a minimum percentage over the price they paid.”  

Liggett has directed more than $3.6 million toward an issue committee opposing Proposition EE. Xcaliber International has given the committee, called A Bad Deal for Colorado, $100,000. 

Proposition EE explained: How much more cigarettes, nicotine products would cost in Colorado

In addition to imposing a minimum-price provision on cigarette sales in Colorado, Proposition EE would raise taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco and nicotine products dramatically over the next seven years.

A package of cigarettes is currently taxed at 84 cents in Colorado. If the ballot question passes, that amount would jump to $1.94 starting next year. In July 2024, the tax would rise to $2.24 a pack and then to $2.64 a pack in July 2027.

Nicotine products, including vaping devices and fuel, are not currently taxed in Colorado. But under Proposition EE they would be taxed at 30% of the manufacturer’s list price starting next year if voters OK the ballot question. By July 2024, that would rise to 56% of the list price and to 62% in July 2027.

Tobacco products, meanwhile, which are currently taxed at 40% of the manufacturer’s list price in Colorado, would be taxed at 62% of list price starting in July 2027.

The bulk of the revenue that’s slated to be generated by the new taxes is set to go toward expanding preschool access in Colorado, a 2018 campaign promise of Polis and long a goal of state education advocates.

The Colorado Sun also found another provision in Proposition EE that could benefit Altria, one that actually reduces taxes on so-called modified-risk tobacco products, a designation awarded by the Food and Drug Administration. 

MORE: Proposition EE will raise taxes on tobacco products in Colorado — with one very big exception

Only 12 products have that MRTP designation, four of which are manufactured by Philip Morris. The products are part of the company’s IQOS system, which is kind of a cross between a traditional cigarette and a vape device. It works by heating tobacco sticks to the point where nicotine vapor is released, but the tobacco isn’t actually burned.

An IQOS device. (Via Business Wire)

While tobacco products in Colorado are currently taxed at 40% of the manufacturer’s list price, under Proposition EE the tax on modified-risk tobacco products would fall to 35% starting next year and gradually rise to 41% on July 1, 2027. 

Altria has contended that its IQOS system is the company’s future as cigarette use decreases.

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  • Discount cigarette makers file federal lawsuit seeking to invalidate part of Colorado’s Proposition EE
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via Straight News https://coloradosun.com/2020/10/15/proposition-ee-lawsuit-liggett-group-altria/

Diane Mitsch Bush outraises GOP rival Lauren Boebert in third District as Democrats pour money into the race

Colorado News

Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush outraised her Republican rival for the 3rd Congressional race, new finance reports show, another sign Democrats are looking for an upset.

Mitsch Bush, a former state lawmaker, raised $2.6 million from July 1 through the end of September, according to figures filed with the Federal Elections Commission. Republican Lauren Boebert raised $1.8 million, her campaign said.

Boebert’s surprising primary defeat of five-term incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton gave Democrats an opening in the contest, and outside money is pouring into the district — the only competitive congressional race in Colorado this year. 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s leading organization, is spending about $574,000 on TV ads opposing Boebert to help Mitsch Bush. And the Republican counterpart is expected to join the fray this week.

Boebert, who owns Shooters Grill, a Rifle restaurant where servers carry guns, is attempting to galvanize conservatives and drew praise from President Donald Trump, but so far she has struggled to catch fire and raise big money.

The district — it stretches from Steamboat Springs to Grand Junction, east to Leadville, south to Durango and across the San Luis Valley to Pueblo — favors Republicans, and Trump won with 52% of the vote in 2016.

Boebert’s three-month fundraising total is more than 10 times the $152,000 she raised ahead of her primary victory, but Mitsch Bush — like other Democratic candidates — saw a late influx of campaign cash — 31% of her total — after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Some 56% of Mitsch Bush’s itemized contributions in the third quarter came from Colorado.

To start October and the final push to Election Day, Mitsch Bush had $963,000 in the bank compared to Boebert’s $250,000. Candidates will file a final report next week with spending and money raised through Wednesday.

“I am very thankful to the thousands of patriots across our state and country that have contributed their hard-earned money to help send me to Congress,” Boebert said in a statement.

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Mitsch Bush also thanked her supporters in a statement earlier this month. “I am humbled and honored by the support we’ve earned to flip this district and take my pragmatic, bipartisan problem solving approach to Washington — with the support of people from all walks of life and without taking one penny from corporate PACs.”

Both candidates are spending heavily on television advertising. Mitsch Bush spent nearly $1.8 million in the months after the primary, according to a Colorado Sun analysis of TV contracts filed with the Federal Communications Commission. That compares with more than $1 million on TV ads by Boebert’s campaign.

More money will flow into the race from outside political groups in the final weeks

The district has seen nearly $3 million in outside spending from national political groups, according to OpenSecrets, most of it aimed at attacking either candidate. 

The total is moving closer to historic levels. In 2004, outside political committees spent $5.6 million the year Democrat John Salazar won the seat. In 2010, when Tipton defeated Salazar, the spending hit nearly $4 million. And in 2016 — the last time Democrats spent big in the race, about $4.2 million poured in as Tipton defeated former Democratic state Sen. Gail Schwartz, according to OpenSecrets.

In the final weeks, the Democratic House Majority PAC, Republican Congressional Leadership Fund and others are airing TV ads in the district, according to a Colorado Sun analysis of contracts filed through Wednesday.

The ads opposing Boebert often mention her arrest record and previous statements related to QAnon, a conspiracy theory. The commercials aimed at Mitsch Bush highlight her past statement supporting the Green New Deal and progressive organization’s support defunding the police.

The recent outside spending, according to campaign finance and FCC filings, to boost the Democratic candidate:

  • House Majority Project put in at least $848,000 in the Denver market on TV ads opposing Boebert.
  • Women Vote, a super PAC operated by abortion rights group EMILY’s List, bought about $245,000 in TV ads opposing Boebert
  • LCV Victory Fund, a super PAC operated by the League of Conservation Voters, is spending at least $190,000 on TV ads opposing Boebert.
  • The DCCC also is targeting Boebert with $574,000 worth of TV ads.
  • Rural Colorado United, a Colorado super PAC created to oppose Boebert, chipped in about $64,000 on TV ads.

The spenders on the Republican side of the campaign:

  • Club for Growth Action, a super PAC affiliated with the conservative nonprofit, bought at least $488,000 on TV ads attacking Mitsch Bush.
  • Congressional Leadership Fund plans to spend $700,000 on ads attacking the Democrat through Election Day, a spokesman said.
  • The National Republican Congressional Committee begins airing ads Friday, according to contracts filed Thursday.

This story is a part of #FollowtheMoneyCO, a project of the Colorado News Collaborative (COLab), edited by The Colorado Sun with support from the Colorado Media Project.

via Straight News https://coloradosun.com/2020/10/15/diane-mitsch-bush-fundraising-lauren-boebert/

Jim Morrissey: Colorado outfits for Halloween

more news https://northdenvernews.com

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via Straight News https://coloradosun.com/2020/10/16/jim-morrissey-colorado-costumes-for-halloween/

Your 2020 Election interactive Colorado citizen guide

Colorado News

As of Friday morning, Colorado voters had cast more than 434,000 ballots in the 2020 election — a gigantic increase in early returns over the 2016 election. But we know many of you are still pondering your decisions on statewide and local ballot measures and the Colorado News Collaborative (COLab) is here to help.

This interactive statewide voter guide will help you find reporting from across Colorado about the major races and measures on your ballot as you prepare to vote in the 2020 Election. Search by race, measure, topic, news outlet or location. This guide is brought to you by more than 60 newsrooms statewide as part of COLab.

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via Straight News https://www.coloradoindependent.com/2020/10/15/colorado-2020-election-voter-guide/

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